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Tuesday, 30 April 2019

10% quota for economically weaker sections

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10% quota for economically weaker sections

• The Lok Sabha passed a landmark bill providing 10 per
cent reservation in government jobs and educational
institutions to “economically weaker” sections in the
General category.
• A nine-judge Constitutional Bench of the Supreme
Court had in the Indira Sawhney case capped the
reservation at 50%.
* It had struck down a provision that earmarked
10% for the economically backward on the
ground that economic criteria cannot be the sole
basis to determine backwardness.
• The Constitution provides only for reservation
based on social and educational backwardness,
such additional quota would need legislative action,
including Constitutional amendments.
• Articles 15 and 16 of the Constitution will have to be
amended for implementation of the decision
124th Constitution Amendment Bill
• It will provide 10% reservation to economically
backward sections in the general category
• The Bill will also cover those from the Muslim, Sikh,
Christian, Buddhist and other minority communities.
• The quota will be over and above the existing 50%
reservation to Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes
and Other Backward Classes (OBC).
• Those who have an annual salary of less than ₹8 lakh
per year and possess less than 5 acres of land will be
able to avail reservation in educational institutions
and jobs.
• The quota will be available to only those economically
backward poor people not availing the benefit of
reservation as of now, who have a residential house
below 1,000 square feet, a residential plot below 100
square yards in a notified municipality, residential plot
below 200 square yards in non-notified municipality
• This bill will have to be passed by both Houses of
Parliament by a special majority of two-thirds of the
members present and voting, which should not be
less than one-half of the total strength of the House.
• If the Supreme Court indeed agrees to lift the 50%
cap, all States of India can extend the quantum of
reservation and “upper castes” will stand to lose in
State services and merit will be the casualty
• If the Supreme Court rejects the idea of breaching the
50% cap, Economically Weaker Section (EWS) quotas
can be provided only by eating into the SC, ST and
OBC quota pie, which will have social and political
It violates Equality Principle
• There have been issues where the quotas were
increased by State governments exceeding the 50%
limit thereby offending the equality norm.
• In Nagaraj (2006), a Constitution Bench ruled
that equality is part of the basic structure of the
• It said the 50% ceiling, among other things, was
a constitutional requirement without which the
structure of equality of opportunity would collapse.
There has been a string of judgments against
reservations that breach the 50% limit.
Lack of data on representation
• Another question is whether reservations can go to
a section that is already adequately represented in
public employment.
• It is not clear if the government has quantifiable data
to show that people from lower income groups are
under-represented in its service.
• Reservations have been traditionally provided to
undo historical injustice and social exclusion suffered
over a period of time, and the question is whether
they should be extended to those with social and
educational capital solely on the basis of what they
It includes everyone
• One of the criteria — the income threshold of ₹8 lakh
per annum — has been mentioned.
• The National Sample Survey (NSS) of 2011-12 shows
that the annual per capita expenditure for 99% of
households falls under this threshold, even when we
take inflation into account.
• Similarly, as per the India Human Development
Survey (IHDS), the annual household incomes of 98%
of households are less than ₹8 lakh.
• Even if we apply all the other criteria for exclusion
(e.g. amount of land owned and size of home), the Bill
would still cover over 95% of the households. So, who
are we excluding? Almost no one.
Lack of due deliberation
• Parliament ended the penultimate session of this Lok
Sabha with both Houses passing the Constitution
(124th Amendment) Bill, 2019, which illustrates the
collective failure of parliamentarians to review the
government’s proposals and hold it to account.
• The rules of procedure of the Lok Sabha require
every Bill to be circulated at least two days ahead of
introduction. The debate started from just a few hours
MPs had been given a copy. The debate ended on the
very sae day.
* This is to give time for MPs to read the Bill and
discuss it (or make objections) when the vote on
the motion to introduce the Bill is taken up. This
was not followed.
• The usual practice is to refer Bills to the respective
standing committee of Parliament.
* This step allows MPs to solicit public feedback
and interact with experts before forming their
* In the case of this Constitution Amendment —
clearly one with far-reaching implications — this
scrutiny mechanism was bypassed.
• The Bill was not circulated ahead of being introduced,
it was not examined by a committee, there was
hardly any time between its introduction and final
discussion. Barring a few small parties, none of the
larger Opposition parties asked for the Bill to be
carefully considered by a parliamentary committee
British contrast
• Contrast this with the incidents in the British
Parliament when the Speaker ensured parliamentary
supremacy over the government.
• A member of the ruling Conservative Party wanted to
move an amendment to set a deadline for the Prime
Minister to put forward new plans if she loses the
Brexit vote next week.
• When the government objected that such
amendments to set the business of the government
in the House can be moved only by a Minister, the
Speaker differed. He said that every member had a
right to move an amendment. The motion was won
by 308 votes to 297.
This case highlights three important ways in which the
British Parliament works better than ours
• First, the absence of an anti-defection law, so that
each MP can vote her conscience.
• Second, it is known exactly how each MP voted.
* In India, most votes (other than Constitution
Amendments that need a two-thirds majority to
pass) are through voice votes — just 7% of other
Bills had a recorded vote over the last 10 years.
• Third, the Speaker insisted on the supremacy of
Parliament, and allowed a motion against the wishes
of the government.
* Unlike in India, the independence of the Speaker
is secured in the U.K. as no party contests against
the Speaker in the next general election.
Our Parliament often falls short of these goals due to some
structural reasons.
• These include the anti-defection law (that restrains
MPs from voting according to their conscience),
• Lack of recorded voting as a norm (which reduces the
accountability of the MP as voters don’t know which
way they voted on each issue),
• Party affiliation of the Speaker (making her dependent
on the party leadership for re-election prospects),
• Frequent bypassing of committees (just 25% of Bills
have been referred to committees in this Lok Sabha),
• Insufficient time and research support to examine
Bills, and the lack of a calendar (Parliament is held at
the convenience of the government).
Alternative Strategies
• One strategy may be to try and spread the benefits of
reservations as widely as possible within the existing
framework and ensure that individuals use their
reserved category status only once in their lifetime.
* This would require that anyone using
reservations to obtain a benefit such as college
admission must register his/her Aadhaar number
and she would be ineligible to use reservations
for another benefit (e.g. a job) in the future.
* This would require no changes to the basic
framework but spread the benefits more broadly
within the reserved category allowing a larger
number of families to seek upward mobility.
• A second strategy might be to recognise that future
economic growth in India is going to come from
the private sector and entrepreneurship. In order to
ensure that all Indians, regardless of caste, class and
religion, are able to partake in economic growth, we
must focus on basic skills.
* We have focused on admission to prestigious
colleges and government jobs, but little
attention is directed to social inequality in the
quality of elementary schooling.

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